The Best Video Game Remake of the Year Reveals the Problem With Super Mario RPG
Reaching for the stars
Remakes have become incredibly common in video games as countless developers seek to reimagine beloved games for present-day audiences. It can often be tricky to find a balance between honoring the original and updating it appropriately, but Star Ocean The Second Story R manages to execute that idea to near perfection. It’s a remake that manages to be faithful to the original PlayStation 1 classic while also feeling like a modern release. It’s a clear blueprint for how to reimagine decades-old classics, especially when compared against other recent remakes, namely Super Mario RPG.
Video game remakes typically fall into two categories. The first encompasses games like Resident Evil 4 and Final Fantasy 7 Remake, which are basically entirely new games offering reimaginings of their predecessors. Star Ocean falls into the second category: remakes that want to preserve the experience of the original, but simply update it for modern audiences. With that framing in mind, developer Gemdrops put in some painstaking work to address some of the critical issues of Star Ocean The Second Story.
The remake liberally adds new tutorials and explanations, but also streamlines the skill system by making it easier to learn and making its menus less complicated to navigate. Combat is completely overhauled and given a tighter, more modern control scheme. Then there is a wealth of smaller additions: a minimap you can turn on and off, additional flavor text for characters during exploration, a fishing minigame, and reworked dungeons, among other changes.
Most importantly, Gemdrops wasn’t afraid to make changes, tweak weak elements, and add new content that built off what was already there and enhanced it. Compare that to another prominent remake, Super Mario RPG, which feels diametrically opposed in terms of design philosophy.
Super Mario RPG seems to adopt the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” mentality, only adding in minuscule changes and a graphical upgrade while largely keeping the experience almost exactly the same as the SNES version. The original is undoubtedly a classic, but playing it 27 years later, the cracks are more evident. The platforming is unwieldy at best and incredibly frustrating at worst. The combat feels ridiculously easy at every turn, with no way to finetune it.
Sure, these aren’t game-ruining problems, as you still can enjoy Super Mario RPG as a breezy, humorous experience, but it’s easy to see how Nintendo and developer ArtePiazza could have improved things. Chris Schilling, deputy editor at Edge, did a great job summing up this idea in a post on X, saying, “Objectively fun, but I'd have much preferred either a re-release or a properly reimagined version, not this cosmetically-enhanced uncanny-valley halfway house.”
Playing Second Story R back-to-back with Super Mario RPG has been a fascinating experience. Both show extreme reverence for their original games, but one is almost afraid to change anything, while the other revels in the newness.
If you’ve played Star Ocean The Second Story before, you’ll find yourself familiar with everything. But newcomers would be forgiven for thinking this is a brand new release done in a “nostalgic” art style. And even that aesthetic is integral to the remake’s identity, a fusion between old and new. The sprite art embraces the PS1 origins, while the highly detailed backgrounds help elevate it into a more modern experience. The fusion of the two works incredibly well, not losing any of the personality or charm that was present all those years ago.
Super Mario RPG, on the other hand, is more mixed. The full 3D update makes certain environments look great, but there was a moodiness to much of the pixel art areas of the original that’s lost. And the new character models simply aren’t as evocative as the original sprites, especially in scenes where Mario pantomimes as other characters.
I certainly wouldn’t say the new Super Mario RPG is a bad game, but admittedly, my expectations were raised by Star Ocean The Second Story R. Square Enix’s latest has made it abundantly clear that you can honor a classic game while still taking liberal steps to change it, and I sincerely hope it inspires other teams to look back to past games and see a future.